When planning weekend activities in Israel, the first thing to bear in mind is that the weekend is Friday and Saturday. In Jerusalem, Thursday nights and Friday mornings are prime time for leisure and touring activities as the Israeli work week winds down. Nightlife on Friday nights (for those who are not observing the Jewish Shabbat) and Saturday nights is more abundant than most people imagine.

While many Jerusalem shops, eateries and attractions – as well as the entire public transportation system – do shut between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, more and more venues remain open if you know where to find them. And on Saturday nights, everyone’s back out in force.

Want to join locals at the trendiest weekend venues? We’ve got a suggested itinerary from Elisheva Mazya, CEO of the nonprofit New Spirit organization; and Karen Brunwasser, deputy director of the Jerusalem Season of Culture.

If you’ve got ideas of other great places to visit in Jerusalem at the weekend, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

The fun starts Thursday night

One of Jerusalem’s liveliest places on Thursday nights is the Machane Yehuda marketplace, better known as “the Shuk.”

Soak up the unique culture of the marketplace by navigating among the hordes of shoppers filling granny carts with fresh produce, fish, meat, spices, candy, nuts, baked goods and condiments for their Sabbath feasts. Get free or almost-free samples from vendors such as the Halva King, Pereg spice shop and Uzi-Eli the Yemenite juice/medicine man. Around 9pm, vendors drastically reduce prices on produce and baked goods until the next morning’s shipment comes in.

 Produce is fresh and abundant in the Shuk.
Produce is fresh and abundant in the Shuk.

If you want to do more than people-watch and shop, Mazya suggests Tahrir, a Middle Eastern dance bar on Ha’afarsek 17 within the Shuk. “Thursday and Saturday nights it’s a big scene where young, hip, religious and non-religious people are dancing on the tables to Arabic music,” says Mazya.

Zion Square and the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, down Jaffa Road from the Shuk, are packed with partiers on Thursday nights. The little artsy shops on Yoel Solomon Street, just off the square, stay open till around 11pm, while many bars and cafés are busy into the wee hours.

If you’re craving cholent – the traditional meat-and-bean stew usually served for Sabbath lunch – buy a plate Thursday night in the ultra-Orthodox Me’ah She’arim neighborhood. Mazya says cholent-tasting has become a thing with late-night revelers, but make sure you’re appropriately dressed for this conservative neighborhood.

In the mood for live music? Follow the crowds to Thursday night shows at the Yellow Submarine  in Talpiot or Zappa on Hevron Road. For laughs, book a Thursday night show (always in English) at Off the Wall Comedy Club near the center of town.

Friday happenings

Start with a classic bursting-at-the-seams Israeli breakfast at the café-bookstore Tmol Shilshom (off Yoel Solomon Street) or at just about any hotel, restaurant or café.

Some eateries offer lavish all-you-can-eat buffets on Fridays till closing time; try Café Rimon at 4 Lunz Street near the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.

Every Friday from 10am to 4pm, handmade wares are on sale at the Bezalel arts-and-crafts street fair between Bezalel Street and Shmuel HaNagid Street, next to the old home of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Brunwasswer recommends this as a good alternative to touristy gift shops.

Shoppers throng to the Bezalel street fair. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90
Shoppers throng to the Bezalel street fair. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90

Stroll through the Alrov Mamilla Avenue shopping center, the German Colony along Emek Refaim Street, the Old City or the Haas and Sherover promenades in East Talpiot/Arnona. Go hiking in the Jerusalem Forest or catch a Segway tour.

At the First Station  culture and leisure venue, the advent of Shabbat is welcomed with a free, pluralistic sing- and dance-along every Friday afternoon at 5pm from May through September.

The Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo by FLASH90
The Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo by FLASH90

For a more traditional Kabbalat Shabbat, head to the Western Wall to join the throngs of worshippers, and you may just get an impromptu Shabbat dinner invitation. If classic cantorial music is your style, go to services at the Great Synagogue.

For Friday night drinks, Mazya recommends the Gatsby Cocktail Bar at 18 Hillel Street, designed like a Prohibition-era American speakeasy. “When you go in the no-name black door, you see a library and that opens onto a ‘secret’ bar where they serve unique cocktails. There’s also a room for smokers, which is rare,” says Mazya.

If you prefer a more cosmopolitan atmosphere with a spectacular view, try the Rooftop wine and cheese bar atop the Notre Dame Church or the Cellar Bar at the American Colony Hotel.

Some of the trendiest places for Friday night dining (not kosher) are the Aza 40 bistro, Mona  and Satya  in Rehavia, The Workshop near the First Station and Turquoise (Lebanese cuisine) on the roof of St. George Landmark Hotel in East Jerusalem,

End your evening with a first-run or foreign film at the Jerusalem Cinemateque or Lev Smadar Cinema in the German Colony.

Saturday in Jerusalem

With no buses or light rail running through the city, and many fewer cars than usual, Saturdays in Jerusalem offer a quieter atmosphere for everyone to enjoy.

Mazya likes to start her day with eggs Benedict at the new French bistro Menza on Bezalel 10. Brunwasser favors the hipster café Bet Haqawe at Yannai 3.

Every Saturday, the Jerusalem municipality sponsors free walking tours with English-speaking licensed guides in 20 of the city’s most iconic areas. Other English walking tours are offered by the Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Institute  and the Abraham Hostel.

In the village-y Ein Karem neighborhood, nearly everything is open on Saturdays, including its many historic churches, artisan workshops and little stores such as the Sweet N’ Karem chocolate shop.

The Ramparts Walk  around the Old City is a great way to get a perspective high above the ancient walls, beginning from the Tower of David Museum  on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Walk atop the Old City ramparts for a unique viewpoint.
Walk atop the Old City ramparts for a unique viewpoint.

Other popular Saturday destinations are the Bloomfield Science Museum, the Israel Museum, Rockefeller Archeological Museum, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens  and the Biblical Zoo.

Jerusalem weather is beautiful almost year-round, so Saturdays are great for playing, walking, biking or jogging. Visit the new Train Track Park, a walking and cycling promenade stretching between The First Station and Beit Safafa. Teddy Park, Sacher Park and Independence Park are great choices for a family picnic.

Segway riders zoom through Train Track Park. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90
Segway riders zoom through Train Track Park. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90

Once the stars come out on Saturday night, Jerusalem comes fully alive again with cultural and culinary activities. Check the municipality’s tourism site  for updated events.